The Midnight Bell – Sadler’s Wells, London

Reviewer: Miriam Sallon

Choreographer: Matthew Bourne

The trouble with going to see a new Matthew Bourne show is that there’s no way you’re expecting anything but absolute perfection. Which is too much to ask of one man, time and time again! And yet, Bourne has succeeded in delivering a perfect production time and time again.

Set in the seedy smoke-filled booze-soaked London of Patrick Hamilton’s 1930s novels, The Midnight Bell has an immaculate cast, a beautiful set, a heady score and a great concept. And yet, we’re somehow left a little lacking.

Multiple stories intertwine to show the loneliness and longing of a group of strangers, united only by their frequent visits to the eponymous pub, the Midnight Bell. Each has their own desires and disappointments, and we observe as they desperately seek out a little companionship, only to be left disappointed yet again.

The problem with this kind of latticed narrative is that there’s quite a lot of story to tell. Bourne’s usually striking and slightly flashy choreography is largely replaced with elegant, long-limbed miming. No doubt the steps are deceptively simple, but who wants simple. There are no big numbers really. The closest we get is a dance hall sequence, but the couples aren’t synchronised as each is confined to their own world of two.

That being said, Bourne’s storytelling is spellbinding as ever. We’re easily able to follow numerous parallel narratives told only through physical movement. Bourne also utilises lip-syncing to give a little more colour to the characters, who mouth along to sepia-soaked warbling records like The Nearness of You and The Man I Love.

Michela Meazza is mesmerising as ever. Playing a lonely spinster duped by a caddish pickpocket, even her smallest movement emanates elegance and quiet power. Her long limbs can’t be contained by the understated choreography, rippling as though jointless. And despite the fact this is an ensemble cast, whenever Meazza graces the stage, the eye is drawn magnetically to her, even as the spotlight guides our gaze elsewhere.

If this were any other choreographer and director, it would be a roaring success no doubt, heaped in superlative praise. Unfortunately, Bourne has set his own bar too high, and instead of elated, the audience is left a little deflated that it was very good, maybe even great but not his best.

Runs until 9 October 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Bar too high?

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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